Neil Sherwin picks five things we learnt from Liverpool’s 3-2 victory.
1. Liverpool would be worthy title winners
To be the best you have to beat the best and Liverpool did just about enough to claim three points against many people’s pre-game favourites for the title.
They flew out of the blocks with their ‘organised chaos’ brand of football and were a goal up just after the five-minute mark when Raheem Sterling sent Joe Hart and Vincent Kompany out for milk and the day’s paper with a clever dummy before slotting home.
Their second goal, via the head of Martin Skrtel’s head, had been coming for some time with City rattled and, in truth, Liverpool could have been three or four goals up after half an hour.
To their credit, the visitors rallied after half time and deservedly drew level but Brendan Rodgers’ side displayed excellent character to claim a winner that now leaves the destination of the Premier League trophy firmly in their own hands.
While there are still question marks over the defence, and Simon Mignolet’s abilities outside of shot stopping, there can be no denying how good their brand of attacking football has been to watch, particularly since the turn of the year.
There’s still a lot of football to be played over the next few weeks but with three of Liverpool’s four remaining games against Norwich City, Crystal Palace, and Newcastle United, it’s hard to see past them at this stage.
2. James Milner is severely underrated
The early loss of Yaya Toure was a massive blow to City’s chances, especially when combined with a two-goal deficit, and while all the talk was about the possible impact of the returning Sergio Aguero, it was an Englishman who proved to be the catalyst for a second half revival.
James Milner has been a bit-part player since joining City from Aston Villa back in 2010 but whenever called upon he has ‘put in a shift’, to use a well-worn cliché.
His impact yesterday, having replaced the surprisingly ineffective Jesus Navas, sparked City into life and he combined superbly with David Silva to tear apart the Liverpool defence for the first goal.
Some heads were scratched when Navas was chosen to start as Manuel Pellegrini picked a very attacking line up and maybe the outcome would have been different had Milner been given the nod.
The 28-year-old will likely go to the World Cup as part of Roy Hodgson’s squad and should be knocking on the door for a starting spot in Brazil.
3. There’s more to Liverpool’s attack than SAS
Luis Suarez, for all his goals and impressive performances this season, failed to score in both games against Manchester City. As did Daniel Sturridge.
Back in December, a ludicrous offside decision robbed Raheem Sterling of a goal, but the 19-year-old wasn’t to be denied in the return affair as he slotted home the early opener.
For a while it looked like Sterling might not make it in the Premier League, the sort of winger who runs into blind alleys and delivers very little in the way of an end product; I wasn’t convinced by him.
Now though, while nowhere near the finished article, he has grown in stature both as a wide player and as an option centrally, as we saw to great effect only a few weeks ago in the resounding win over Manchester United at Old Trafford.
With Sturridge picking up an injury yesterday which could rule him out for at least the next game, if not more, Sterling will be one of those required to pick up the slack.
A hat tip also in the direction of Phillippe Coutinho who found the net against City on each occasion, including the all important winner yesterday.
4. Manuel Pellegrini is a welcome addition to the Premier League
Many City fans, myself included, were more than happy to point a finger at Mark Clattenburg after the game for what was another sub-par referring performance.
The decision not to issue Luis Suarez a second yellow card for simulation angered many, and City could arguably have been awarded a penalty on two occasions.
Manuel Pellegrini, on the other hand, opted for a more pragmatic reaction in his post-match interviews and refused to blame the referee for the narrow defeat.
There was a clear penalty for a Martin Skrtel handball in the area but I don’t think the result was because of the referee. He did well in a difficult game.
He also wouldn’t be drawn into singling out skipper Vincent Kompany for criticism, despite the Belgian being at fault for at least two, if not all three, Liverpool goals.
Instead he gave a far less sensationalist quote afterwards.
…when we win or lose all the players have the same responsibility.
That’s Pellegrini though, and we’ve seen him avoid giving easy sound bytes on numerous occasions, and he also kept a cool head when Alan Pardew launched a foul-mouthed tirade in his direction at St. James’ Park.
Reports of Pellegrini waiting by the tunnel to shake the hand of every Liverpool player and member of staff at the final whistle epitomises the excellent way that the Chilean has carried himself throughout his first season in England.
5. Football is only a game
This one is more of a reminder as opposed than something we learnt but it is extremely relevant given the occasion.
The build up to the contest was rightfully overshadowed by the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster and it was always going to be an emotional affair for the home supporters.
The term “classy” is overused in a similar fashion to “world-class” these days but Manchester City showed theirs by taking out a full-page ad in the match programme as a mark of respect and providing travelling supporters with a banner to display before kick off, while a wreath was presented by Mike Summerbee and Tony Book to Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush prior to kick off.
Of course, it should just be the done thing to respectfully observe a minute’s silence but very often the moment can be interrupted by one or two idiots so credit to the City fans who carried themselves impeccably.
In 1989, 96 football fans went to support their club in an FA Cup semi-final and never returned.
They were remembered in superb fashion yesterday and, for 60 seconds at least, we were all able to reflect on the bigger picture before getting stuck in to one of the games of the season.